When I was growing up finances were tight. My dad was supporting a family of four on a teacher's salary in New York. My mother therefore believed that a "clean your plate" attitude was necessary, and a Time magazine cover back then, with the picture of a starving child from Biafra, belly swollen, certainly fueled her level of commitment to this meal-time credo. I suppose very early feeding memories for me are dim, but I certainly remember being a young child and being forced to stay at the table during meal time or snack time (when I just wanted to be outside playing) till I "finished every last crumb." If not, life could get really miserable, with my mom yelling about my ungratefulness.
I struggled with weight as a young teen and by the time I was 15 years old, I was significantly overweight. I am not indicting my mother as the sole cause of my weight issues. I am simply noting that a new study about child snacking and how moms deal with this daily meal, does not surprise me. Its findings suggest that the food dynamic in my household may have been one of the many contributing causes of my significant weight gain and ultimately my teen obesity.
Researchers have found that pushy mothers or as the study calls them, "bossy moms," who are intrusive during their toddler's snack times, pushing them to eat when they clearly are disinterested or done, may be contributing to their chubbiness by pre-school age. These moms were compared to more relaxed moms, and though the weight differences in the children later on, were small, they were still notable. The study acknowledges that toddlers can be very picky and also develop some peculiar eating habits. So "good parents" can be trying to make sure adequate food consumption is taking place. But if the parent's concerns and their behaviors begin to override their toddler's natural hunger and eating signals, the situation could be setting the children up for "eating despite fullness" as a learned behavior. There have been studies before on this same subject, but most of the studies did not observe parent's behaviors - they simply relied on questionnaires.
The study used tactics like a mom saying, "you know you like it...come on ...eat it," while other moms just offered the snack, watching the child and accepting the feeding response that was displayed naturally by the child when no prodding occurred. So when a mother consistently prodded, the study noted a BMI shift upwards of about 7 (BMI rose from 50th percentile to 57th percentile) later in childhood. One caveat is that the study occurred in a lab setting and not in the home - so it's still not a perfect observation without any interference study. The lead researcher feels that the lesson to be learned is to allow kids to self determine eating patterns and to interfere only if a health professional concurs with your concerns that there may be some negative health consequences occurring because of the toddler's eating habits. I can tell you that my son was especially lean in his younger years and other mothers were constantly trying to "fatten him up." I had seen photos of my husband as a child and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree (though in adulthood my husband filled out significantly). So though I came from a family of rather hefty individuals, I observed that my son was a light but healthy eater and had I zero concerns because his dad had been quite lean as a child too. To this day those moms still want to fatten him up. Luckily he focuses on weight training and healthy eating as a means to build muscle and be healthy!!
Are you a pushy mom? If so, share your reasons why - Or if this article makes you examine your feeding strategies and consider change, share that too!
Published On: February 04, 2012